Originally posted on The Saint’s Arts and Culture page – St Andrews’ independent student newspaper – on October 16, 2012
As an avid fan of Pratchett’s Discworld series and of Mr. Dickens’ novels I spent a torturous few days staring longingly at Dodger as I passed Waterstones before I finally gave in and bought the hardcover. From the off, it is obvious that this novel was set in Dickensian London – a fact which should be obvious given the title and main character, who was one of Dickens’ many creation – and I resolved not to search for the outlandish, farcical elements of Discworld in Dodger. It is important that any previous fans of Terry Pratchett become comfortable with this idea before they dive into the murky sewers and shadowy corners of Dodger‘s London, because this novel is quite different from Pratchett’s hilarious fantasies, though it does retain his warm humor and wry view of humanity.
The story itself is an adventure and a mystery, starring young Dodger with guest appearances by Dickens, Henry Mayhew, and some other familiar names. Dodger is a ‘tosher’: someone who scavenges the sewers of London for dropped riches and trinkets, and a popular rascal amongst the less-washed citizens of Victorian London. When he rescues a girl from some violent men, he finds himself wrapped up in political intrigue (not to mention emotional turmoil) well above his head and his status. We join Dodger as he works out the mystery girl’s origins, navigating through some awkward upper class dinner parties, gets himself into scrapes only to talk himself out of them. Occasionally the main character seemed a little too smooth and unnaturally lucky, but the somber and often enlightening presence of his wise landlord Solomon served well to keep the tale from losing its grip on the reader. While the book is an enjoyably easy read, it makes gentle observations of poverty and misery which would make Mayhew proud; and indeed, it is to Henry Mayhew that Terry Pratchett has dedicated his book.
In his acknowledgements Pratchett describes Dodger as ‘a historical fantasy, and not a historical novel,’ and while there is no magic of the hocus-pocus variety to be found, the fantasy comes in a form I can only describe as a historically-minded literature nerd’s daydream. Characters from Victorian legend, literary giants, and historical figures all mingle together in this atmospheric mystery story. It’s got adventure, romance, and a wink or two from the author to his readers as he sends his hapless protagonist to Fleet Street for a shave or places the young vagabond next to Sir Robert Peel at a dinner party. I was so fully absorbed into the story as it twisted through the sewers and streets of London that I didn’t have time to miss the oddities of the Discworld novels; Dodger may not be as funny, but on a dark October night it is the perfect book for history and literature enthusiasts as well as long time fans of Terry Pratchett.